Preeti Oza, PT, PhD, NCS, believes that there is nothing that can compare to hands-on experience in preparing DPT students to be practice-ready upon graduating. Research studies are valuable not only for advancing the field of physical therapy, but also for giving students the opportunity to work side-by-side with experienced professionals. Oza says, “one of my career goals is to train students for clinical research.” According to Oza, one research study that is currently underway is the “effects of group exercises in quality of life and movements in individuals with Parkinson’s disease.” Working alongside Oza are three research assistants: Alysia Guerin ’16, Kayla Ledford ’16 and Darcy Schmalenbach ’16.
For Schmalenbach “So far, this project has given me experience using standardized tests and measures in order to collect baseline data from patients with Parkinson’s disease. […] This has given me the opportunity to see many different presentations of Parkinson’s disease.” In the fall Oza invited individuals from from the Parkinson’s support group of Stockton and of Lodi to a wellness clinic that was held on October 28, 2015. All 37 students in the Neuromuscular Physical Therapy course taught by Oza participated in the wellness clinic by administering assessments of balance and walking. The students then taught simple exercises that the individuals would be able to do on their own. They also introduced the use of technology, such as the Wii Fit, to help improve mobility and balance. Guerin describes her experience, “I was assigned to a patient and we worked with her through various functional tests and measures.” Guerin then “asked her a lot of questions about her good and bad days and how she keeps herself motivated.”
Each of the three research assistants have a specific reason for wanting to get involved in this particular research study. Guerin answers, “I have a big interest in neurological rehabilitation as well as a desire to partake in ways to help advance the field I [will] very soon [be] going into. I knew I wanted to take advantage of this great opportunity to learn from a very knowledgeable professor and work side-by-side on this project with her and fellow classmates.” For both Schmalenbach and Ledford working with people with Parkinson’s hits close to home. For Schmalenbach it is because of her grandfather who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s when she was very young. She shares, “I was able to experience the effect that physical therapy had on him and the positive impact that it had on his overall quality of life. When I heard about this project, I knew I wanted to be apart of something that could help those who suffer with Parkinson’s disease.” There was also an intersection of personal and professional for Ledford: “As my grandmother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease a year ago I became more interested in the disease process and its effect on functional mobility.”
All three agree that the courses at Pacific have prepared them for the transition from the classroom into a clinical environment. Guerin proposes that “All of the courses we have taken have prepared us for the clinical setting. Not only have we learned an immense amount about the various aspects of physical therapy and how to best treat our future patients, we also relate that knowledge to the clinical setting and make it a practical learning environment. Each class is structured to help us gain more confidence each day in the knowledge we gain and who we can best apply it to help our future patients.” Ledford identifies a few of the specific skills gained: “Through this therapist-patient interaction I am able to practice rapport with [individuals],” as well as assessments and treatment strategies. Ledford continues, “Being apart of the process of evidence-based practice is rewarding and has given me more confidence as I come closer to completing the program.”
Schmalenbach shares, “I feel very lucky to attend [Pacific’s] DPT program and I think it is wonderful that they offer opportunities like this research project.” Ledford explains, “I am blessed to be in a program that has so much built-in support.” Guerin echoes the sentiment, “It truly feels like a family.” Further, Guerin finds motivation in the knowledge that “we are all in this together. The professors have been nothing but amazing with their guidance, knowledge and support. We are very lucky as students to be learning from some very successful and knowledgeable professors within the physical therapy field. I am looking forward to graduation and embarking into my career as a confident physical therapist and being a part of a truly amazing and rewarding profession.”